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By Andrew Hood
Five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain said he never took banned performance-enhancing substances during his illustrious career.
In a full-page interview with Indurain in Sunday’s edition of the Spanish sports daily MARCA, the 43-year-old Spaniard was asked by journalist Olga Viza what he would say if someone asked him directly if he doped.
“I would say ‘no.’ I passed all the controls, thousands of them, so many I lost count. It’s something normal; you win, you pass controls and there’s no problem,” Indurain said. “What’s happening today is that everything is in doubt.”
Indurain’s statements are interesting because the sensitive doping issue is rarely broached with the retired cyclist. Indurain remains a popular icon in Spanish culture and his five-year Tour legacy in the early 1990s mirrored a growing sense of national pride in Spain following the nation’s transition from the Franco dictatorship to democracy.
Indurain won five consecutive Tours and two Giro d’Italia titles in the early to mid-1990s at a time when many of the victories of his contemporaries have since been cast into doubt. Rampant abuse of EPO was taking hold of the peloton during those years before an effective anti-doping control for the banned blood booster was developed.
Several stars of the 1990s have since come forward to admit they used EPO and other banned drugs, including 1996 victor Bjarne Riis, who admitted earlier this summer he took performance-enhancing substances en route to his victory when he ended Indurain’s run at a record sixth Tour win.
Indurain, however, remains adamant that his victories were clean. The popular Spaniard never tested positive during his 12-year pro career that spanned from 1985 to 1996.
The indirect query about his own legacy came in a series of questions about the doping controversies that have been dogging the sport since the Festina Affaire of 1998 blew the cover on organized doping within teams.
“I don’t know why, but it’s been like that for years. The news comes out during the big tours. The big organizers are fighting the UCI for power. I don’t know if it’s intentional or not. The only thing that’s clear is that the cyclists are the victims of this internal war,” Indurain said. “Doping cases have existed ever since there’s been controls. What’s happening now is that they are getting more publicity. When there’s a positive control at (track and field), you read about it in small summary. If there’s a positive in cycling, it’s a two-page spread.”
Mercado back to Spain
Spanish climbing specialist Juan Miguel Mercardo is heading back to a Spanish team after four seasons racing for foreign squads.
The two-time Tour de France stage-winner has penned a deal to join the improving Andalucía-CajaSur for the 2008 season. The 29-year-old raced for Quick Step-Innergetic for two seasons before joining Agritubel in 2006.
A native of Granada, Spain, Mercardo will be hoping to regain fitness and capitalize on his climbing legs. Once heralded as a grand tour candidate after finishing fifth in the 2001 Vuelta a España, Mercado struggled to find his rhythm racing beyond the friendly confines of Spanish roads.
During two years at QuickStep, he did manage to win a Tour stage in 2004 and claimed another in 2006 after switching to French continental team Agritubel.
Mercado joins Francisco Ventoso and José Antonio Redondo as new arrivals for the Spanish continental team. Andalucía-CajaSur enjoyed a strong 2007 Vuelta that included a stage-win by the now-retired Luis Pérez as well as active racing in major attacks. T-Mobile meets to put team on 2008 footing
Arriving T-Mobile riders such as George Hincapie, John Devine and Craig Lewis met their new teammates and staff in a two-day meeting in Cologne as the team looks ahead to the 2008 season.
“It’s been a successful camp with everything geared around getting the team off to a great start to the new season,” said team general manager Bob Stapleton on the team’s web page. “The camp was a chance to welcome the new faces and we added some fun group interaction exercises to help build team spirit.”
The short get-together was a chance for Stapleton and other staffers to help riders set individual and team goals for the 2008 season. Continuing with its commitment to clean sport, riders were also subject to rigorous medical monitoring and doping testing, the team reported.
The team will regroup January 5 with its traditional team camp in Mallorca and the racing season will begin with the Tour Down Under on January 14.